Rita Lee Jones, Brazil’s million-selling “Queen of Rock,” who acquired an international following with her colorful and frank style and singles like “Ovelha Negra,” “Mania de Você,” and “Now Only Missing You,” has died at the age of 75.
BRASILIA, BRAZIL — Rita Lee Jones, Brazil’s million-selling “Queen of Rock,” acquired an international following with her colorful and frank style and singles like “Ovelha Negra,” “Mania de Você,” and “Now Only Missing You,” has died at the age of 75.
Rita Lee, as she was called, died at her home in Sao Paulo on Monday evening, according to a statement posted on her official Instagram account.
Her cause of death was not immediately known. She had retired from stage appearances in the early 2010s due to physical fragility and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2021, though her son claimed a year later that she had defeated the illness.
With a career spanning six decades, the Sao Paulo native created a lasting impression with her irreverence, originality, and songs conveying messages that helped introduce Brazilian society to feminism, while also frankly discussing her issues with drug misuse.
Despite her opinion that her voice was “weak and a little out of tune, like a sparrow’s,” she had a long run of top-selling albums, including “Rita Lee” and “Rita Lee & Roberto de Carvalho,” and dozens of her songs were featured in widely watched telenovelas in Latin America. Globo’s mammoth television network included her interpretation of the song “Poison Weed” (Poison Ivy) in three of its programs.
“I was not born to marry and wash underwear.” “I wanted the same freedom as the boys who used to play in the street with their toy cars,” she told the Brazilian issue of Rolling Stone in 2008. “When I first got into music, I realized that the “machos” reigned supreme, even more so in rock music.” ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘this is where I’m going to let my fangs out and truly give them a hard time.'”
She was a singer and songwriter known for her versatility, as she could play at least five instruments: drums, guitar, piano, harmonica, and autoharp. She was also among the first Brazilian performers to employ an electric guitar.
Her fame eventually spread beyond Brazil. She performed in Portugal, England, Spain, France, and Germany. The British newspaper Daily Mirror claimed in 1988 that then-Prince Charles adored her song “Lança Perfume” and regarded her to be his favorite singer. In 2001, she received a Latin Grammy in the Best Portuguese Language Album category for her album “3001.”
Rita Lee rose to prominence with the band Os Mutantes (The Mutants) in 1966. Colors and originality, as well as irony and irreverence, were Lee’s trademarks from the outset, as evidenced by the vivid outfits she wore in her presentations. By the mid-1970s, after selling 200,000 copies of her album “Forbidden Fruit,” Lee was dubbed the “queen of rock” on the music scene. Hits on “Forbidden Fruit” include “Now Only Missing You” and “Ovelha Negra,” which have long been played on radio stations and in Brazilian soap operas.
In an interview with the music website I Have More Records Than Friends! in 2017, Lulu Santos, a judge on the Brazilian edition of The Voice, recalls watching Rita Lee play autoharp during a concert.
“She brought that thing on stage, in those clothes… it was completely mythological,” the musician explained. “There is a legitimate lineage of ‘girls’ tied to a rock in Brazil, of which she is a legitimate representative.” But I see her as a counter-element to rock clichés.” From a feminine perspective, she observes the awkwardness of the tired cliché of the male rocker, who plays with his legs open. She saw right through him.”
She was one of the first public people in Brazil to popularize feminist topics, such as incorporating female sexuality and pleasure into the lyrics of her 1979 song “Mania de Voce” (Mania for You). Similar songs followed, such as “Amor e Sexo” (Love and S*), which contrasted the two in-depth, and “Lança Perfume” (Spray Perfume), a tribute to unfettered hedonism.
Later in life, she became a vegan and an animal rights activist. For decades, she dyed her hair bright red and frequently wore matching lenses, a popular image she abandoned in recent years as she allowed her gray to grow out. In 2015, she decided to remake herself as a white butterfly.
In her memoirs, released the following year, she did not hold back in revealing the sexual abuse she endured as a youngster at the hands of a man who had come to fix her mother’s sewing machine.
She also referred to herself as a “rebel” and a “hippie communist,” and she wrote about sneaking out the windows of her house as a teenager to play, being arrested for marijuana possession during the dictatorship, and several sessions in drug and alcohol recovery centers.
“I recognize that my best songs, as well as my worst, were written in a state of altered consciousness.” “I only regret that I didn’t realize the medicine had long since expired,” she wrote. “My generation suffered from the claustrophobia of a brutal dictatorship, and using drugs was a way to breathe airs of freedom.”
In an interview with the television show Fantastico in 2020, she stated that physical infirmity had forced her to retire from the stage eight years before.
“Being old surprised me because I’ve never been old in my life,” she explained on the show. “I was left wanting to live my old age away from the stage, without sharing it with the public.”
According to the Instagram post, a public wake will be held on May 10 at the planetarium in Sao Paulo.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ordered three days of mourning, lamenting the death of “one of the biggest and most brilliant names in Brazilian music.” On his personal Twitter profile, he complimented her as “an artist ahead of her time,” as well as her sense of humor.
She is survived by her three children and her husband, with whom she had a 44-year musical relationship. In 2021, they collaborated on a new song, Change, as well as a remix of some of the singer’s best hits.
Cause of death
Rita Lee’s cause of death was not immediately announced. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2021, but a year later her son stated that Queen of Rock had beaten the disease.
Lee’s passing generated a flood of tributes from fans and the present Brazilian music business. The Brazilian rock singer, Pitty tweeted, ‘I’m a disaster. The Greatest is no longer with us… There will never be another Rita Lee’.